TIJUANA, Mexico--The U.S. under-17 national team crushed its Cuban counterparts by a score of 5-0. Earlier, Canada had drawn Honduras 1-1 in sweltering heat, but the temperature cooled by the time the U.S. and Cuba took to the pitch of Estadio Caliente. Beyond the first couple minutes, there was never much doubt which way the tie would go in the CONCACAF U-17 Championship.
Should the U.S. advance to the semi-finals, it will qualify for the U-17 World Cup in Nigeria in October later this year.
The game started brightly, with both teams getting early chances. The USA's came first. Striker Jack McInerney ran at his marker atop the box, and hit a low drive past the 'keeper and off the post. Two minutes later, Cuba had a similar opportunity. A corner fell to Dayron Joseph just outside the 18, but his distance shot whizzed inches wide of the post.
From there on out, the U.S. team took charge of the game, making use of its superior size and athleticism. In the 9th minute, Sebastian Lletget crossed from the left after some nifty triangle passing had set him free, and McInerney rose to head narrowly wide.
After a quarter of an hour, there was a bit of controversy. A ball over the top saw the lively McInerney collide with Cuban 'keeper Odisnel Despaigne. The ball squirmed out to Joseph Shinsky as Despaigne stayed down injured. Jamaican referee Raymond Bogle let play continue, and Shinsky put his tight-angled shot over the goalmouth.
Midway through the half, USA had the ball in the net. A Shinsky free-kick delivery was met by the head of captain Perry Kitchen, and it bounced into the bottom far corner of the net. However, the referee called the goal off immediately for a foul inside the box.
A legitimate goal came half an hour in. Again McInerney was involved, as the striker blasted a powerful shot from 30 yards, which Despaigne could only tip onto the bar. Stefan Jerome rushed in first to tap home for the opener.
Four minutes later, Luis Gil hit a free kick from deep in the left corner, which McInerney rose to nod in from the near post. It was deserved payment for the youngster's influential play thus far.
It took just another five minutes before the USA was up 3-0. Shinsky skinned his man down the left and lofted a cross back into the area. Gil had time to trap in the box and unleash a shot. A combination of goalkeeper and defenders deflected the attempt away, but it fell kindly for Lletget, who prodded home.
The half waned after that with the contest essentially decided. McInerney had time to waste an open opportunity through lackadaisical play before Despaigne was removed from the action, obviously still feeling the effects of his earlier clash with McInerney.
The half had a similar bright start as the first, with the USA nabbing yet another goal. McInerney found himself in possession in the box, and hit a low shot into the bottom right corner for his second of the night. Only two minutes had elapsed in the half before substitute 'keeper Yeimi Guerra conceded his first of the night.
McInerney then chased his hat trick. He had two gilt-edged chances on the hour mark of the match. First, Marlon Duran played Shinsky down the left, and the winger uncorked a shot which Guerra could only parry. McInerney was first on hand to tap into an open net, but the referee called it back for offside. Then, McInerney dribbled around three defenders in the box, including 'keeper Guerra, only to have Gil snatch the ball away from his feet to slam home the USA's fifth goal on the night.
As the sweltering heat cooled to a tolerable evening temperature, so too the game cooled after that. With the remaining half hour merely academic, both teams slowed down the pace of the match. Substitutions further cut up the game's flow, as the USA wasted further chances to increase its lead, including two shots that Guerra did well to save.
The USA continue in the group stages on Thursday against Canada, followed by Honduras on Saturday.
Zac Lee Rigg, Goal.com